by David Hackett Fischer

The American Revolution nearly failed. At the end of 1776, the President sent New Year’s wishes to General Washington, hoping that the new year would be nothing like the horrible year they had just endured.

All that was about to change. In fact, it had already changed with Washington’s daring Christmas expedition across the Delaware. In the following weeks, Washington’s winter campaign in New Jersey invigorated the sagging spirits of liberty, dismayed the British and Hessian professionals, and changed the world.

I’m leaving soon for Minnesota, where Swing Left has four tossup races.

Speaking of Getting Out The Vote, here’s GOTV 1896, from Vachel Lindsay’s “Bryan! Bryan! Bryan!”

When Bryan came to Springfield , and Altgeld gave him greeting,

Rochester was deserted, Divernon was deserted,

Mechanicsburg, Riverton, Chickenbristle, Cotton Hill,

Empty: for all Sangamon drove to the meeting-

In silver-decked racing cart,

Buggy, buckboard, carryall,

Carriage, phaeton, whatever would haul,

And silver-decked farm wagons gritted, banged and rolled,

With the new tale of Bryan by the iron tires told.

The State House loomed afar,

A speck, a hive, a football, a captive balloon!

And the town was all one spreading wing of bunting, plumes, and sunshine,

Every rag and flag and Bryan picture sold,

When the rigs in many a dusty line

Jammed our streets at noon,

And joined the wild parade against the power of gold.

We roamed, we boys from High School,

With mankind, while Springfield gleamed, silk-lined.

Oh, Tom Dines, and Art Fitzgerald,

And the gangs that they could get!

I can hear them yelling yet.

Helping the incantation,

Defying aristocracy,

With every bridle gone,

Ridding the world of the low down mean,

Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,

Bidding the eagles of the West fly on,

We were bully, wild and woolly,

Never yet curried below the knees.

We saw flowers in the air,

Fair as the Pleiades, bright as Orion,

-Hopes of all mankind,

Made rare, resistless, thrice refined.

Oh, we bucks from every Springfield ward!

Colts of democracy-

Yet time-winds out of Chaos from the star-fields of the Lord.

The long parade rolled on. I stood by my best girl.

She was a cool young citizen, with wise and laughing eyes.

With my necktie by my ear, I was stepping on my dear,

But she kept like a pattern without a shaken curl.

She wore in her hair a brave prairie rose.

Her gold chums cut her, for that was not the pose.

No Gibson Girl would wear it in that fresh way.

But we were fairy Democrats, and this was our day.

Minnesota, Here I Come

by Kate Quinn

In 1947, Charlotte St. Clair, a well-heeled American college student, is heading to Switzerland with her mother in order to take care of a little problem. She ditches her mother in Southampton in order to pursue a clue to the whereabouts of her wonderful French cousin Rose, who disappeared in the war. The clue leads her to the dilapidated house of an alcoholic WWI British spymistress who threatens to shoot her. The game is soon afoot.

Based on an actual WWI spy network, the story alternates in time and point of view between the first war and the aftermath of the second. Charlie is a good character in a good predicament, and she gets the story off to a good start. Later, the situation takes over and things become too easy; contrast Simon Mawer’s haunting Trapeze.

by Mackenzie Lee

A swashbuckler, reminiscent of The Count Of Monte Cristo, with a difference: our rakish 18th-century hero is accompanied on his journey toward virtue by his best friend, who is black, and by his sister, who is a feminist and who is secretly studying medicine. A rollicking frolic is had by all.

by Jeremy Dauber

Through much of the twentieth century, American comedy — standup, skit, theatrical, cinematic or on television — was chiefly Jewish comedy. Jeremy Dauber surveys this scene and ties it to ancient writings and medieval tradition. A thorough and fascinating study.

Oct 18 14 2018

After Kavanaugh

The Kavanaugh confirmation fight will be remembered as the moment when everything changed.

In 1856, a congressman from South Carolina clubbed a senator from Massachusetts into bloody unconsciousness on the floor of the Senate. This will be like that.

  • The underlying question before us is whether women are fully human. Scientific progress has made it possible for women to control their bodies; shall they?
  • Whenever Kavanaugh’s vote is decisive, we will remember that this stolen vote was cast by an intemperate partisan, a liar and a drunkard who, in his youth, attempted to rape an acquaintance.
  • This will not be forgotten, because it is impossible to forget.
  • If women are to enjoy their own sexuality, they must have access to birth control and, in case of failure, to abortion. We also require a social convention that permits women to prevent or to end an unwanted relationship even if they are physically or socially weaker.
  • The question does not readily admit to compromise. If preventing the conception of a potential child, or ending a pregnancy, is murder, then women are simply not as human as men.
  • This question has now been settled; people will love whom they choose. Nevertheless, the Republican Party now controls the Supreme Court and intends to restrict access to birth control, to abortion, and to the voting booth.
  • The damage to the Supreme Court will be swift, severe, and lasting. I doubt it will ever be repaired.
  • Everyone will be involved. After Roe falls, we’ll be arranging secret trips to abortion-friendly states. After Griswold falls, we’ll be smuggling contraceptives into restrictionist states. There will be roadblocks at the state line. Republicans will pass more stringent laws and impose Draconian enforcement. We will have an Underground Railroad and a fugitive abortionist act.
  • It’s still not going to be enough.
  • One Republican senator might have delayed or derailed the confirmation of a judge who is an intemperate partisan, a liar and a drunkard who, in his youth, attempted to rape an acquaintance. Not one had the courage.
  • A further consequence of this situation will likely be a formal schism of the Catholic Church. Many will blame Francis, but Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae leaves little room for maneuver. It might have been possible to temporize for another generation, but with everyone in the nation involved in the struggle, temporizing won’t work. Control of parochial schools is going to be a frightful mess.
  • American Protestants will rediscover sectarianism. Once, the dividing line was the empty cross in the nave; now, it will be the rainbow at the door.
  • Already, it’s very difficult to maintain amity across the divide. You can’t pal around with someone who thinks you or your friends are not quite human. I think I know three Republicans now. I’ve stayed friends with one (for some definition of “friend”) by cutting off all contact; for ten years we avoided religion and politics, and now we avoid everything. I didn’t know until today that the second held such opinions. The third is a professional political operative who is good at his job and can (so far) navigate these treacherous waters. Amateurs cannot.
  • In the background, we have America’s concentration camps for toddlers. We have police who murder black folk with impunity. We have a revived and invigorated anti-Semitism and white supremacism supported by a political party gone mad. We have a government that plunders our environment for the benefit of a few, a government in the service of foreign dictators.
  • Amity is nice, but decency is not optional. A judge who is an intemperate partisan, a liar and a drunkard is going to rule that women are not fully human; under the circumstances, many will choose to be decent, not amiable.
  • We will be lucky to live through the storm. Many will not.

Update: The state represented by Preston Brooks, who assailed Charles Sumner, was South Carolina, not Kentucky.

The Web Unbalanced

photo:Maranke Wieringa

What was I doing in Paris? I opened Web Studies 2.0, a fascinating meeting of (mostly) Euopean and North African web researchers, with a look at the World Wide Web we have built through our research.

How did we come to this pass?

New media were meant to augment our abilities and to liberate our understanding. We dreamt of fast access to unbounded libraries, of university-level courses delivered at minuscule cost to remote villages, of access to tools. We envisioned new literary forms and a new birth of freedom of expression unencumbered by the cost of chopped trees.

What we got was Facebook, Reddit and 4chan. We got Jimmy Wales and Milo Yiannopoulos and Candy Crush Saga. We got Gamergate and the GRU. We got Donald Trump.

All this is not entirely our fault, or only our fault. But it is our fault; our new media ecology is the world we have made, and it is far, far from the world of which we had dreamt. Our predicament arose, I believe, because the twentieth century discovered a set of beautiful, difficult, and powerful ideas — and we handed those ideas to knaves, fools, and villains. The same ideas were available as well to dedicated scholars, thoughtful policy-makers, and brilliant artists, but our world is not always a place of perfect symmetry and the systems we built seem often, in practice, to favor the abusive and to privilege the villain.

This asymmetry is arguably the defining property of our new media ecology.

The paper goes on to discuss some specific ways that today’s Web helps villains more than is helps the virtuous, and then look for some ways we could change that.

ACM Digital Library subscribers can read the paper here, and everyone can read it here.